William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Author: Blonde Bombshell (page 2 of 4)

Consider The Hand — Guest Post by the Blonde Blombshell


Editor’s note As I prepare for class this weekend, I have some guest posts and reader’s questions prepared for us.

The poor hands of the modern person are becoming nothing more than useless stubs. While not everyone spends their spare time chiseling a statue, painting portraits, or building houses, it is, in theory, possible to make dinner, write a letter, and shuffle a deck of cards. Alas, even something as simple as unlocking a door is becoming too much trouble for the modern human. In fact, humans spend so many hours a day cradling a phone in their hands that doctors have observed that there is a tendency in some people to develop an oversized thumb.

There was once vanity, but it was of a different sort. There is a fairytale popularized by the Brothers Grimm about a girl who hated to spin so much that her mother was fed up and beat her. A passing queen heard the cries and inquired as to the problem. To save face, the mother told the queen that she was too poor to keep her daughter in enough flax to satisfy her need to spin. The queen took her away and as a reward, showed the girl rooms full of flax so she could spin to her heart’s content.

The girl was saved by three women who said they would help if they could be invited to the wedding of the girl and the queen’s son, to whom she would be betrothed after her success at spinning (of course). It ends well, the flax is spun and the three women were invited to the wedding—one had a large foot, another a large lip, and the last, a large thumb. The prince asked about this, and they admitted that their deformities were the result of treadling the wheel, licking the thread, and twisting the thread. The prince vowed that his bride would never touch a spinning wheel, lest the same misfortune befall her.

In an updated version, the oversized thumb would be a thing of beauty and correlated to one’s likes on social media.

Parents and teachers in the not-too-distant past were concerned that their wards would develop the manual dexterity needed for legible penmanship. Putting words on paper was not an end in itself, but it was also a way to create and strengthen the connections in the brain that made learning possible. While a child wouldn’t be able to say that they were developing their fine motor skills, they could thread a needle, wind a ball of yarn, and play cat’s cradle.

Along came the PC and then there was widespread anxiety that the children would be unemployable if they could not put numbers into a spreadsheet. Penmanship and even block printing became secondary, and children no longer had the opportunity to use writing as a truly mental exercise. Handwriting is coming back, a little bit, revived by those who have recognized what has been lost. But what has been lost will not be recovered in its entirety, and a generation has been lost to the computer.

Someone told me that if we let the little tasks fall by the wayside, that our giant brains will be used for greater things and thinking bigger thoughts. It is a pleasurable to ruminate on the possibilities, of course, but I have a hard time believing that the great things of the future were put on hold because we were too busy chopping vegetables or fishing for a key ring in a briefcase.

The Silliness With Bathroom Laws — Guest Post by The Blonde Bombshell


First of all, the business about going to the restroom of your birth sex is just wrong. Moms have been bringing little boys into the women’s room for a long time, partly due to convenience, and partly due to their unwillingness to send them into the men’s room on their own. Duly noted that there are family bathrooms in some localities, but that is not always the case.

Ah, and why would mothers be reluctant to send little boys into the men’s room unattended?

Some mothers get around this problem by finding a kind-looking man and asking them to accompany their son into the bathroom. While that may seem like a workable solution, it has the potential to backfire. After all, every creeper isn’t missing teeth and has questionable hygiene. That is, they can’t be spotted a mile away.

There are approximately over 800,000 registered sex offenders in the United States, and this does not include the ones who haven’t been caught, or the ones who haven’t started but are looking for the right opportunity to get their feet wet. Who can blame a mother who would like to make sure her son is safe from incidental molestation or worse?

Bathrooms—especially highway rest stops—are not necessarily the safest of places, for females or males. The story that shadowed my youth was the murder of one Jane Snow at a highway pit stop outside of Gaylord, Michigan. She was traveling with her young sons, who did not accompany her into the women’s room (and likely were in the men’s room; and according to another news report went outside to run around), and when she did not emerge, one of the boys went into check, to find her body which was determined to have been stabbed 22 times. The boy had the presence of mind to alert a fellow traveler. This is a horrifying story, and my classmates and I found it even more horrifying because we had all been in that bathroom. We all knew that rest stop, and shuddered to think how vulnerable we were.

The simple fact that law preventing males from entering a restroom contrary to their birth sex would not have stopped the crime. To my knowledge, the murderer is still at large, and were such a silly law been effect, the charge could have been added to felony manslaughter.

Speaking of little boys, in 1998, little Matthew Cecchi was murdered while his aunt was waiting for him outside a public restroom. The man who was convicted of the killed committed suicide at the San Quentin State Prison in 2011. The adult in charge did everything right. She sent in the 9-year-old into the men’s room and waited for him outside. At no time was he more than a few feet from her, but the little boy still met a brutal, senseless end. Nine may be a little old for going into the ladies’ room with your aunt, but it could have saved his life.

What is missing in this debate is an acknowledgement of common sense and safety. It makes sense for little boys to accompany their mothers and aunts to the women’s room if dad or uncle isn’t around. Parents and guardians need be able keep boys and girls safe from harm, and the law should not prevent them from doing so.

Men kitted out with under-the-stall or other cameras with the intention of photographing unsuspecting bathroom users should not be allowed in women’s rooms. Period. Existing laws can be used to prosecute lurking in the women’s room with a camera.

As for bathroom access for (non-camera carrying) transgendered folks—if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then the duck can go in the women’s room. But the duck shouldn’t expect to find a urinal there.

In Support of Unpaid Work


Editor says: note the author’s name.

From The Atlantic:

Unless things change, girls today will spend hundreds of thousands more hours than boys doing unpaid work simply because society assumes it’s their responsibility,” [Melinda Gates] writes in the letter, which is written for a teenage audience.

The article is cluttered with numbers about how women, even in so-called advanced societies like Finland, are burdened with the drudgery of housework. This type of analysis has been around for decades, and women’s magazines in the era of liberation were replete with conjectures of the astronomical amounts a stay-at-home mom would earn if she were paid for all the cleaning, chauffeuring, nursing, etc. she performed on a daily basis. Or the magazines would have fun with the analogy of mothers as domestic engineers or household CEO’s. Which is amusing, but really doesn’t fly on the old resume.

The fact is that there is women’s work, and the reason why there is women’s work is because men do it wrong. Just ask any man who has tried to help his wife or mother. He will do it, but he will fumble, and the plates will be stacked wrong, or the silverware will mysteriously find new homes, or butterfingers will chip the china or shatter the glassware. The cynic would say that he does it on purpose, to avoid being called on to help in the future. Maybe it’s true, and the average man is just too clever for his own good. But it could also be true that he is an untrainable dolt.

I am not completely convinced that the studies like the one Mrs. Gates chooses to cite take into account the breadth of what is commonly known as “men’s work.” Men’s work is mostly outdoor work. Cars need fixing, windows need washing, paint needs scraping, screens have to be put in or taken out. An imaginative man can keep busy with little chores that will satisfactorily fill up evenings and weekends. Just because he’s not running the vacuum doesn’t mean that he is not contributing to the cleanliness, safety, and comfort of the home environment.

When I clean the house, wash the dishes, and do the laundry, I get to live in a clean house, eat from sparkling dishes, wear fresh clothes, and sleep on immaculate sheets. When I cook a meal, whether it takes me 20 minutes or 2 hours, I get to enjoy the wonderful food that I prepare with my own two hands. I directly benefit from my labors. No one is doing it for me, and I can have the satisfaction of a job well done. That others—and possibly men—may benefit from my hard work is incidental.

The other part of the equation that never quite gets calculated properly is the joy and satisfaction one can get from unpaid work—whether making a quilt, mending clothing, replacing a lost button, or ironing the shirts. It is possible to buy quilts or have the dry cleaners do the mending, sew on buttons and take care of the shirts. Even though the actual work is outsourced, it takes time and energy to haul things to the cleaners and carry purchased goods from the store.

Personally, it would frustrate me to be obligated to pay someone to rummage through my things, paw through my drawers, and prepare meals that very well could taste like sawdust in my mouth. What is the going rate for home assistance? I don’t think I could afford it, especially at the Governor Cuomo-endorsed rate of $15 an hour.

My wages would have to rise considerably for me to enjoy my current standard living if I were to abandon all unpaid work. On the bright side, I could spend my increasing number of leisure hours at the office. Talk about drudgery.

What is surprising is that there isn’t public consternation about the hours and hours that women spend at the office, caged in a cubicle, tethered to a desk, under poor lighting, with their eyes riveted to Excel spreadsheets. Many of these women have expensive educations, and sometimes more than one degree, and this is their reward?

I’m not sniffing at earning a paycheck, and sometimes, it has to be done. But, there is unsung and uncelebrated satisfaction in doing work that is marginalized, undervalued, and yes, unpaid.

Social Justice Warriors At Oberlin Attack Non-Diversity Of Sandwiches


Editor says: not the author’s name.

I’ve been served pizza that was nothing more than half of an English muffin with a red substance and something that could be cheese. I’ve ordered cappuccino at an Italian restaurant, and was served dust from a packet that was partially dissolved in water. I’ve been the victim of innumerable little food crimes, nay, food micro-aggressions, and I had no idea that I had the power to make a federal case out of my food-related disappointments.

Leave it to a group of students at Oberlin to figure it out. They’ve labeled the fare offered by the hardworking people of dining services to be “culturally inappropriate” and “insensitive.” And college officials have stepped in with “meetings” resulting in “changes…to address all concerns.”

Never mind that the goal of any self-respecting dining hall is to feed as many students as possible in a cost-effective manner without getting any of them sick. Judging from the quick response of the administration, the goal of dining services is to honor the whims of the student body.

(And if you think that college costs are high now, imagine what the price tag will be if dining services staff have to climb the Himalayas to source just the right milk from the most politically correct yak.)

Among the charges of the students is that the bánh mì Vietnamese sandwich is “served with coleslaw instead of pickled vegetables, and on ciabatta bread, rather than the traditional French baguette.”

The sandwich itself is a fusion of Vietnamese and French ingredients, and there is no “right way” to make one. And using coleslaw is a stroke of genius, and truly brings an American perspective into play. Never mind that the sandwich was developed during Vietnam’s colonial past. I am surprised that a sandwich with such a shady history would pass muster with the students in the first place.

Oberlin, OH is a little town, with a population that is just nosing over 8,000. And in many Midwestern towns—even college towns—“traditional French baguette” is nearly impossible to come by. Ciabatta rolls seem like a reasonable substitute.

The glory of food is that it can be reinvented time and time again. Does anyone think that Lender’s bagels found in the frozen foods aisle bear any resemblance to their hand-rolled and boiled namesake? Does anyone think that Chef Boyardee products are a fair representation of the food of Italy? And what about that business of Marco Polo bringing noodles from China to the West? I guess spaghetti can be crossed off the list of acceptable foodstuffs.

In Yokohama, Spaghetti Naporitan—inspired by GIs after WWII—is nothing more than a plate of noodles with a nice smear of ketchup, and hot dogs if you’re lucky.

Ketchup? That wonderful child of Asia that has found a home in kitchens across the globe. Is this the type cultural inappropriateness that the students of Oberlin would like to stamp out?

There is a burgeoning food police, what with the legally mandated trans-fat oil ban in some localities, but their role could be expanded to monitor sushi bars (no inauthentic salmon-and-cream-cheese rolls for you) and test the yogurt content of white sauce used by falafel purveyors. Watered-down mayo masquerading as white sauce is a real menace.

What is most troubling about the little food fight at a little college in Ohio is the rigidity of the students and their belief that there is a “right” way to do things. For a lot of life, there is no right way. Sure, there are some illegal ways, and it is wise to stay away from those. There are many ways to go from point A to point B, say from college to a job. There is not just one way to live one’s life, just as there isn’t one way to prepare a Vietnamese sandwich.

The joy and glory of food is that there is no right way is that the cook can change things to suit the ingredients at hand. It’s a pity that the students at Oberlin don’t have any regard for the imagination. If they don’t like the sushi or the bánh mì, they can always have the old reliable egg salad.

Ah, with celery, dill, or pickles? I’ve even heard it being made with potato.

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